Monthly Archives: February 2010

Ueno Juri is Ready to Gou

Ueno Juri, Gou

We’re only halfway into February but NHK have already announced the first details of next year’s taiga series. The public network’s annual drama airs on Sunday nights for almost the whole year and is based around a single historical figure. In this year’s “Ryomaden,” that figure is Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-67), the samurai who helped lead Japan out of centuries of isolation. The 2011 taiga returns to a more feminine theme that has been the focus in several recent series – the ladies of the royal court. Popular actress Ueno Juri (23) will play the princess Gou (1573-1626), third daughter of warlord Azai Nagamasa (1545-73). Gou was married three times to various offspring of the legendary Toyotomi and Tokugawa warlord clans. As the wife of shogun Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632), she created the “Ohku” or inner palace at the Edo Castle, with its intricate web of female intrigue.

Ueno has established herself as a talented actress, particularly in the Fuji TV dramatization of the “Nodame Cantabile” manga and a subsequent big screen adaptation. Like Gou, she is a third daughter and found that she identifies with the role. “In the script, she is strong willed and really speaks her mind. I might be like that!” But she has a lot of preparation to do for the role before filming starts in August. “I’d never watched a taiga series or performed in a period drama. So I recently started watching Ryomaden.” Though she shares the same management agency with its star, Fukuyama Masaharu (41), she has never met or even seen him. So she was delighted when he sent her a message of encouragement for her upcoming challenge.

Let’s Get Ready to Tumble

Rhythmic gymnastics, Tumbling

Men’s rhythmic gymnastics may just be the next big thing in Japan. At least, TBS will be hoping their upcoming drama series about the minority sport will get people talking. Starring actor Yamamoto Yusuke (22, photo below) in his first lead role in a series, “Tumbling” will air during the spring season from April. He plays a high school student who joins the gymnastics club to get close to a new girl in the school. Yamamoto made his acting debut in 2006 as the masked bike-riding hero Kamen Rider Sasword. He landed some choice roles in 2007 and the following year saw him ranked No.1 in an Oricon poll of up-and-coming actors. He has been in training for his latest role since last autumn and, though producers had originally planned to use a stunt double, he does all the back flips and other tumbling routines himself.

Yamamoto Yusuke, Tumbling

Men’s rhythmic gymnastics originated in Japan, but there are thought to be only about 1,000 athletes active in the sport in the whole country. Several of them appeared in a TV commercial for Calpis Soda last year, which drew attention to the sport and sowed the seeds for the drama series. Organizers will be hoping for the kind of exposure enjoyed by men’s synchronized swimming on the back of the hugely popular 2001 movie “Waterboys.” The movie a follow-up Fuji TV drama series helped establish the careers of Tsumabuki Sataoshi (29) and Tamaki Hiroshi (30).

Showbiz Babies
There were a couple of stories this week of celebrities and babies. Comedian Horiuchi Ken of the trio Neptune became a father for the first time this week when his wife gave birth to a baby girl. He appeared on the live variety show “Waratte Iitomo” on Monday afternoon but managed to get to the hospital in time for the delivery.

And talento Yinling of Joytoy announced on her blog this week that she’s expecting a baby in the autumn. She married a former member of the Hustle pro wrestling troupe in 2008.

Movie Director Inoue Umetsugu Dead

Inoue Umetsugu

Movie director Inoue Umetsugu died on February 11 of a brain hemorrhage at a Tokyo hospital, it was revealed yesterday. He was 86. A graduate of Keio University, he joined the Shin Toei movie studio in 1947 and made his directorial debut in 1952. He later defected to Nikkatsu and made a series of movies with top star Ishihara Yujiro (1934-87), such as “Arashi wo Yobu Otoko” (poster above) and “Washi to Taka.” In 1958, he married actress Tsukioka Yumeji (87). Two years later he left the studio system but went to take his movie total to more than 100. In 1983, he made several movies featuring Johnny’s Jimusho heartthrobs, including remake of “Arashi…” starring Kondo Masahiko (45). After that he made only a couple of minor features in the late 1980s.

Kitano Makoto is Back
As reported on Japan Zone recently, talento Kitano Makoto (51) is going back on the air. His management agency announced on their website yesterday that he is scheduled to appear on a couple of shows in the Kansai region later this month. On February 20, he’ll make his first theater appearance since a charity show in 2004. And a week later, he’ll be a guest on the “Takajin Mune Ippai” show hosted by his friend Yashiki Takajin (60). Kitano’s mouth has got him into trouble many times over the years but a scandal last year nearly ended his career.
Earlier stories:
Celebs Bemoan a Broken Back and a Poison Tongue (Apr. 29, 2009)
It Isn’t Easy Being a Star (Feb. 8, 2010)

Two Showbiz Families United
Actor Wakayama Kiichiro (45) and actress Hitomi Ryo (29) are romantically involved, according to today’s issue of the “Shuukan Josei” magazine. They have been dating since joining the same management agency several years ago, and now live together in Tokyo. Both are minor celebrities best known as the children of famous actor parents. Their 16-year age difference comes as less of a surprise when you consider that Hitomi’s father, actor Uehara Ken (1909-91), was 66 when he married her mother at the age of 28. Wakayama comes from an even stronger showbiz pedigree – he is the son of movie stars Wakayama Tomisaburo (1929-92) and former Takarazuka actress Fujiwara Reiko (1932-2002), and the nephew of Katsu Shintaro (1931-97).

A Trip Down Memory Lane for Momoi Kaori

The Yellow Handerchief

Actress Momoi Kaori (57) makes a special guest appearance in the U.S. indie remake of the classic movie that made her a star, it was revealed yesterday. On the one hand it’s just the latest take on a centuries-old theme, but “The Yellow Handerchief” is really an homage to the 1977 Yamada Yoji classic “Kofuku no Kiiroi Hankachi.” That movie featured established stars Takakura Ken (79) and Baisho Chieko (69) and won just about every movie award going that year, including a best supporting actress prize for Momoi. In the new version, William Hurt (59) plays the lead role of a man released from prison. After he filmed a scene with Momoi, who plays the owner of a hotel he stops at on his journey home, he was impressed enough with the Japanese star’s acting skills to comment, “That was awesome!”

Filming took place in Louisiana in 2007 and the movie debuted in early 2008 at the Sundance festival to lukewarm reviews. Directed by Udayan Prasad, it failed to find a distributor despite the presence of Oscar winner Hurt. But it also stars Kristen Stewart, who has has much more success in the “Twilight” movies, and was eventually picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films in the spring of 2009. It hits U.S. theaters this month and is scheduled for release in Japan in the summer.

Happy Valentine’s Day for Nishikawa Ayako
Nishikawa Ayako, Beckii Cruel

Talento and doctor Nishikawa Ayako (38, photo left) got married at the Hotel Okura in central Tokyo yesterday. She and social welfare company president Fukumoto Ajia (36) held a reception for about 400 invited guests. Former Yomiuri Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Kuwata Masumi (41) was the master of ceremonies.

NEWS23 Announcer Married
Freelance announcer Okayama Yuko (30) wrote on her blog yesterday that she got married at the beginning of the year. A presenter on the TBS show “NEWS23,” she said she had been a bit embarrassed to make the announcement, but chose Valentine’s Day to do so. She said that because of her husband’s work, they will be leaving Japan before the summer to live for several years in Brazil. But she hopes to continue her broadcasting career.

Beckii Cruel Back in Japan
Teen YouTube sensation Beckii Cruel (14, aka Rebecca Flint, photo right) is back in Japan to promote her debut single and shoot a photo collection. An internet hit among Japan’s otaku and anime fans, Beckii is sure to enjoy commercial success with the single “Tsubasa wo Kudasai.” She released the song February 10 as Beckii Cruel and the Cruel Angels – the trio is made up of Beckii, 18-year-old French college student “Sara Cruel,” and 16-year-old British schoolgirl known as “Gemma Cruel.” Beckii performed to three songs and met with fans at at the Lazona Kawasaki shopping mall yesterday.

Sister of Funakoshi Eiichiro in Suicide

Ryoso Funakoshi, Funakoshi Eiichiro

Actor Funakoshi Eiichiro (49, photo right) is continuing his work despite the suicide of his younger sister. It was revealed yesterday that Hirano Yoko (47) hung herself on February 7 at the ryokan inn that she formerly ran in the onsen (hot spring) resort of Yugawara in Kanagawa Prefecture. She closed the Ryoso Funakoshi inn (photo left) last October, citing health problems. It’s now known that she suffered from clinical depression for the last nine years or more. She and her brother were born into a showbiz family in Tokyo, but they moved to Yugawara for the clean air as Eiichiro suffered from asthma as a child. Though small, with only six guest rooms, the inn they opened was popular and enjoyed a good reputation. Hirano took over the family business so that her elder brother could follow in his parents’ footsteps. She was head of the local innkeepers association, but is said to have suffered a lot of stress from the responsibility of her work.

Funakoshi was in Kyoto filming the latest TV drama adaptation of the works of novelist Matsumoto Seichou when he heard the news. He joined his wife, actress Matsui Kazuyo (52), in Atami City for Wednesday’s funeral before heading back to work in Kyoto. Between them, the couple have had their share of ups and downs, but Funakoshi is considered the consummate professional and is referred to as the “emperor” of the 2-hour TV drama format.

You The Rock Busted
You The Rock, Hotei Tomoyasu

Rap/hip hop musician You The Rock (38, photo left) was arrested by Kawasaki police at his home on Wednesday for possession of marijuana. In what was probably a related incident, he was questioned by police last September. With his Ali G-like persona, You-chan became popular on late-night TV in the late 1990s. He is married to former pin-up girl Midorikawa Noriko (28).

Hotei Cancels Shows Due to Hand Injury
Musician Hotei Tomoyasu (48, photo right, profile) has postponed the first two shows of his upcoming national concert tour due to a serious hand injury. One of Japan’s best known guitarists, the 6’4″ former Boowy axeman is said to require a month’s rest and several weeks of rehabilitation for the injury to his left hand and elbow. In the meantime, shows at Zepp Fukuoka (Feb. 14) and Zepp Tokyo (Feb. 18) have been put on hold.

Solo Comedy Gets Live Airtime
The “R-1 Grand Prix 2010” contest for solo comedians is to be broadcast live on Fuji TV on February 23. The eight finalists were announced yesterday, with one more to be selected from among the losing semi-finalists on February 21. As an indication of the ongoing popularity of TV comedy, even that playoff will be shown live. The event is in its eighth year, with the number of contestants growing annually to this year’s 3,539. Among the eight finalists is two-time (2007-08) winner Nadagi Takeshi.

Uchida Yuki, Ito Atsushi Join Odoru3 Cast

Uchida Yuki, Oda Yuji in Odoru Daisosasen

There were some cast announcements yesterday for this summer’s highly anticipated movie sequel “Odoru Daisosasen 3” (Bayside Shakedown 3). Actress Uchida Yuki (34) will reprise the police officer role she last played in the original TV series in 1998 (photo). Uchida is recently enjoying a resurgence in her career, which was put on hold following her marriage to actor and “Kita no Kuni Kara” co-star Yoshioka Hidetaka in 2002. The couple split in 2005. She returned to the big screen in 2007, appearing in Kitano Takeshi’s “Kantoku Banzai!” (Glory to the Filmmaker!).

Actor Ito Atsushi (26) will be introduced to the cast as the nephew of the late veteran detective Waku Heihachiro. Waku was played in the first two movies by comedian Ikariya Chosuke, who died in 2004. Main character Aoshima Shunsaku, played by Oda Yuji (42), has been promoted to section chief and will have three new subordinates: regular cast member Komoto Masahiro (44), newly transferred to the armed robbery section, and newcomers Kawano Naoki (27) and Takito Kenichi (33).

The latest in the most commercially successful movie series of all time, Odoru3 is scheduled for release on July 3.

Ishida, Higashio Announce Wedding Date
Actor Ishida Junichi (56) has finally put a time and place on his wedding to pro golfer Higashio Riko (34). Appearing at a PR event in Tokyo yesterday, he said the couple will hold their wedding reception at the Imperial Hotel in the center of the capital on July 12. The date – a Monday with no pro baseball games – was chosen to accommodate the bride’s father Higashio Osamu (59), the former Seibu Lions manager who is now a commentator. The reception is expected to cost about ¥10 million and be attended by around 300 people.

Earlier stories:
Junichi, Riko Take “Pre-Honeymoon” (Jan. 5, 2010)
Another Marriage for Japan’s Premier Playboy? (Jul. 15, 2009)

Dempa Shonen Lives On
A classic 90s NTV show may soon be enjoying something of a revival. “Susume Dempa Shonen” is to be released on DVD for the first time, and a TV special is scheduled for March. The show was a reality TV pioneer in many ways during its 1992-98 run. It featured “guerrilla” stunts like interviews with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, taking a dump in the toilets of various showbiz stars, and the trans-Asia hitch-hiking trip that made overnight stars of young comedy duo Saruganseki.

Oshio Refused Bail

Oshio Manabu, Katsumi-Sayuri

The Tokyo District Court yesterday rejected a bail application by former actor Oshio Manabu (31, photo left). he has been charged in relation to the drug death of Ginza bar hostess Tanaka Kaori (30) on August 2. Prosecutors say Oshio gave her the synthetic drug MDMA (ecstasy) in a friend’s apartment in Tokyo’s upmarket Roppongi Hills complex, but then left her to die after she went into a coma. Already handed a suspended prison sentence in November for the drug use, and indicted in December for supplying the drug to Tanaka, Oshio was charged on January 25 with failing to act to save her life.

Oshio’s upcoming trial will be the most high-profile case since the lay-judge system came into effect last August. His lawyers are said to be planning to enter a plea of not guilty. Oshio was released on ¥4 million bail after his first arrest in August.

Earlier stories:
Oshio Manabu Arrested Again (Jan. 4, 2010)
Oshio Manabu Gets Suspended Sentence (Nov. 2, 2009)
Yada Akiko Divorces Oshio Manabu (Aug. 8, 2009)
Oshio Manabu Faces Drug Arrest (Aug. 4, 2009)

A Comic Tale of Riches to Rags
Comedian Katsumi (46, photo right) has published a book about his financial struggles, he announced yesterday. The book “Shakkinboshi” includes details such as: how he turned ¥300 million in stock investments into debts of ¥170 million; the all-pink ramen restaurant that he and his wife and comedy partner Sayuri (40, photo right) drove to bankruptcy; the highly prized giant stag beetles that he was breeding but which a freaked-out Sayuri killed with bug spray; right up to his recent investment in 100,000 now almost worthless shares in Japan Airlines. Katsumi was advised to write the book by his comedy sempai (senior) Shimada Shinsuke (53). The book’s title is a pun of the Japanese words shakkin (debt) and kinboshi (dazzling victory).

It Isn’t Easy Being a Star

Manabe Kaori, Kitano Makoto

So what led talento Manabe Kaori (28, photo left) to pull out of a fashion show on Saturday at the last minute? Organizers of the bridal fashion show at the Tokyo International Forum said that Manabe’s management agency called them at about 2am the night before claiming that she was in poor health and would not be able to appear. In her place, the agency supplied the services of talento Fujisaki Nanako (32). Manabe was to be the star of the show and she graced the cover of a printed for the event.

The cancellation is the latest hiccup in a career that has been plagued by management problems. Her president of her former agency was arrested last year for tax evasion. Last summer she dropped out of a regular TV slot after her image was used without permission in a politician’s national election poster. And she is said to have filed to cancel the contract she signed with her current management agency.
Earlier story:
Avant Garde CEO Arrested (Aug. 26, 2009)

Kitano Makoto Ready to Bite His Tongue?
Talento Kitano Makoto (51, photo right) may be close to making a showbiz comeback. On extended leave of absence since last April, he has been the subject of several media reports suggesting a possible return to work in the near future. Long known for his sharp tongue, Kitano was on the brink of forced retirement last year following the latest in a series of inflammatory on-air remarks. The scandal brought an end to his “Makoto no Psychic Seinendan” radio show, which he had presented for 21 years. The Shochiku Geino management agency acknowledged at the weekend that his probation period has come to an end but said that there were no media jobs lined up for him for the foreseeable future.
Earlier story:
Kansai Comics In Trouble Again (Apr. 13, 2009)

It Wasn’t to Be for Anna
Barely a week ago Japan Zone recently reported the romance between single mother talento Umemiya Anna (37) and american football player Nakajima Yu (28). Well, it seems that the romance was all too brief. Umemiya wrote in an generally upbeat entry on her blog that she and Nakajima have broken up after just two months. “I still feel that it was a lovely encounter, and it was another lesson learned,” she wrote.
Earlier story:
Divorcee Celebs Go for Younger Men (Jan. 29, 2010)

A New Dawn, Sad Day for Sumo

Takanohana, Japan Sumo Association

Yesterday was a momentous and sad day for fans of sumo. As former yokozuna (grand champion) Takanohana (37, photo right) was formally announced as the youngest ever board member of the Japan Sumo Association, Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu (29) shocked the country by announcing his retirement.

Though one of the great sumo wrestlers of the modern age, Takanohana (real name Hanada Koji) is something of a renegade within the Sumo Association and caused a big commotion when he put himself forward for election to the board last month. Members are usually pre-selected behind closed doors and posts are given depending on seniority and connections. Takanohana’s candidacy meant there had to be an election, and he ended up ousting a 62-year-old incumbent. He has promised to bring a message of reform to the rigid and traditional sport. Unfortunately one of his first tasks as a board member was ending the career of a fellow yokozuna.

Asashoryu retires from sumo

Asashoryu (photo left) has always been something of a renegade himself. One of many wrestlers brought in from overseas to inject new life into a sport in decline, his rise to the very top along with countryman Hakuho has irked some sumo purists – there hasn’t been a Japanese yokozuna since the 2003 retirement of none other than Takanohana. But worse than that, Asashoryu has repeatedly shown his all-too-human face and behaved in ways not considered fitting for a yokozuna. Most recently he was investigated for allegedly assaulting a man after a bout of heavy drinking. He was reportedly given an ultimatum by his sumo elders – retire voluntarily or be the first ever yokozuna to be dismissed and lose his considerable retirement money. A tearful Asashoryu and his stablemaster then gave a press conference to announce his retirement. He recently won his 25th tournament at the top level, the third highest total in sumo history.

Matsuda Seiko Joins Bones Cast

Matsuda Seiko in Bones

Singer-actress Matsuda Seiko (47, profile) has landed a role on the popular U.S. drama series “Bones,” it was revealed yesterday. She plays the part of a Japanese journalist in series 5 of the Fox show, set to air from April. The series 4 box set is to go on sale in Japan next month and the Seiko connection is sure to help boost the show’s popularity here. Producers say they were looking for a Japanese actor who would bring acting ability, English ability and name recognition to the role. In the U.S. Matsuda is seemingly referred to as the “Japanese Madonna,” presumably based on her huge popularity in the 1980s. She made her U.S. recording debut in 1990 and had some modest chart success. She has since landed some small roles in Hollywood features, including the 1998 blockbuster “Armageddon.”

Matsuda is said to have prepared for the Bones role while on a Japan tour at the end of last year, and went to the U.S. for two weeks’ filming in early January. She follows in the footsteps of other domestic stars who have recently appeared in top U.S. dramas, such as Sanada Hiroyuki (“Lost”) and Takeuchi Yuko (“Flash Forward”).

John Lennon Museum to Close
The John Lennon Museum in Saitama is to close at the end of September, it was announced today. The museum, located in central Saitama City, is run by a subsidiary of Taisei Corp., a major construction company. A Taisei spokesperson said that a licensing agreement signed with Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono is set to expire and will not be renewed. The museum houses many of Lennon’s personal effects. He and Ono spent quite a bit of time in Japan before his death in 1980. A 3-day event is to be held at the museum in the spring to mark the couple’s March 20 wedding anniversary.

Imaigawa Duo Fess Up

Comedy duo Imaigawa revealed yesterday that they have been pulling the wool over our eyes. During a PR event to mark the release of the live DVD “Oil Shock,” named after their best-known gag, the pair made a couple of confessions. Igawa Shuji (photo left) admitted that he is 36, three years older than he has always claimed. Meanwhile his partner Iwai Jonio (age unknown, photo right) revealed that he has been married since 1999 and has a school-age daughter.